Fiery talk from adjunct faculty

By Samuel Charles

Columbia’s part-time faculty union, P-Fac, is asserting that the college is unfairly reducing the number of classes taught by union members, some of which have been taught by the same professors for several years.

In the January 2011 P-Fac newsletter, the union states that the college changed course schedules, which as a result, decreased the number of classes certain long-time adjunct faculty members can teach.

“Columbia is acting in such a way that it’s impacting more long-serving part-time faculty,” said John Stevenson, P-Fac treasurer and adjunct faculty member in the History, Humanities and Social Sciences Department. “The college seems to be acting with very little regard [for part-time faculty].”

There are five different criteria for evaluating part-time faculty members’ performance: representative samples of student work, student evaluations, classroom observation, a review of teaching materials and a student’s self assessment of what they learned in the class.

Part-time faculty members view student evaluations if more than five students submit them. But P-Fac believes the college may be basing its decision to cut classes on a small number of negative student evaluations instead of using all of the evaluation criteria.

The union is encouraging members to call their offices if they’ve had class hours reduced or eliminated altogether.

P-Fac President Diana Vallera said the union has received calls from part-time faculty members in different departments across the college. But the Arts, Entertainment and Media Management and History, Humanities and Social Science departments seem to have the most cases of cuts. The union alleges in its newsletter that 20 senior adjuncts in the AEMM Department have had their hours “handed over to younger, less-experienced instructors.”

Younger part-time faculty members also may make less money for teaching a class than their more-experienced colleagues.

P-Fac also filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the college in regards to the class cuts. The decision on whether the college was in violation has yet to be determined. The National Labor Relations Board is responsible for investigating such claims.

Currently, the union is negotiating with the college regarding the Photography Department’s reduction in credit hours after the NLRB found Columbia to be guilty of an unfair labor practice during the fall 2010 semester.

P-Fac filed the first complaint after Columbia made the unilateral decision to reduce certain four-credit hour classes to three without negotiating with the union.

Louise Love, vice president for Academic Affairs, issued an e-mail response to P-Fac members urging them to join the college in an effort to mend the strained relationship between the two parties.

“The college is eager to return to the type of civil discourse that has historically characterized our communication with P-Fac,” Love said in the e-mail. “We urge all members of the college community—full-time and part-time—to remember our shared commitment to our students and to act and speak in a collegial spirit with a united purpose.”

Vallera said the negotiation process has gone slower than expected or desired.

“It’s very slow right now,” Vallera said. “We have not been meeting at the table as often as I’d like. We should be meeting every other week, but we’re waiting for a response from the college [regarding] our last proposal.”

The January newsletter to P-Fac members described the college’s actions as “a war against experienced, long-time teachers.”

In Love’s response to P-Fac, she said she was concerned at the claim’s severity.

“The college is disturbed that images of war are being advanced to characterize … and totally misrepresent the college’s attitude toward our part-time faculty and the union,” Love wrote.

Columbia should be equally committed to P-Fac members, Vallera said, because of the dedication P-Fac members have made to the college.

“There doesn’t seem to be that kind of investment [from the college],” she said. “A lot of these members have been here and have been really committed to student learning. They value the community.”